Demonstrators led by Statkevich demand end to Lukashenka’s rule

A crowd of some 200 people led by prominent Belarusian opposition politician Mikalay Statkevich marched through downtown Minsk on July 3, marking the 73rd anniversary the liberation of Minsk in World War II, which is officially celebrated in Belarus as Independence Day.

Belarus is under the occupation of the Lukashenka regime, Mr. Statkevich told his supporters who gathered in Kastrychnitskaya Square at 2 p.m. “What happened this past spring suggests that one person has occupied the country," the former presidential candidate said. “He needs more and more money and he sells the country in an attempt to prolong his rule for at least one day. He continues to rob the people, takes money from the pockets of future generations.”
“This fall there will be a [major Belarusian-Russian] military exercise in the country and the dictatorship within may be replaced by a military occupation from outside,” Mr. Statkevich said. “The duty of the sons and daughter of Belarus is to prevent an occupation. The best people of the country have gathered here in the square. We won’t allow our Motherland to be occupied. Long Live Belarus!”
The crowd marched along Independence Avenue, Minsk’s main thoroughfare, to Independence Square, displaying a large banner saying, “Basta!” (Enough!) and chanting slogans demanding an end to Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s rule.
While walking past the head office of the KGB, Mr. Statkevich stopped to address the crowd. “The people working in this building have no moral right to be called officers,” he said. He noted that this past spring the KGB had detained dozens of patriots just in order to substantiate the “madman”’s allegation that they were militants and terrorists. The crowd responded by chanting “Shame!”
“The more we protest the exercise, the less threat it poses,” Mr. Statkevich said after the crowd reached Independence Square. “I’m opposed to the presence of any foreign troops in Belarus, especially troops of a country that is at war. Nobody knows what Putin may do, especially in the run-up to a presidential election in Russia. That’s why we should respond to the danger.”
Mr. Statkevich said that a protest would be staged in Minsk in September, ahead of the exercise, to “show our determination to live in independence.”
He expressed gratitude to those present for having the courage to take part in the demonstration. “We have confirmed today that this avenue and this square belong to us,” he said. “There will be more and more of us protesting until the country becomes normal.”
Police watched the demonstration but did not intervene. No arrests were reported.
Mr. Statkevich had invited reporters to escort him from his home to the center of Minsk in order to avoid being captured by police on his way to the demonstration. After the taxi he was traveling in was twice pulled over by traffic police officers, Mr. Statkevich continued on foot, accompanied by reporters.

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